The best piece of advice I have ever gotten from a trainer or instructor is to, "Sit quietly." For years, I thought I was going with my horse when actually I was trying too hard and being "very noisy" with my seat and legs. Once I learned the meaning of truly sitting quietly, communication with my horse improved 1,000 percent. When I became quiet in my seat I could give very light aids and get a response. Her responses to my aids became quicker—finally she could hear me. And bonus—I could hear her!
Paula Rush, via E-mail
The words that made me FEEL my horse: Trust in your horse. Trust in you. These wise words, just a few seconds before my first return show.
Rodrigo Campuzano, Mexico
Never ever stop trying when you don't get the exact response you want! Just because you may start to feel frustrated and want to give up when you aren't getting the results you want, don't let your mount get away with it. My instructor and numerous horse people in my life have repeated this saying to others and me. Some horses I have ridden are as easy as ABC's, but others were quite a challenge for me to follow this advice. Riding has become more enjoyable when I remember this statement!
Nicole Gardner, New York
I get great advice from my trainer all the time, but one of the most valuable was "Talk to him." I started leasing "Diago," a former track pony, a year and a half ago while his owner is in vet school. He just turned 8, and he has the energy of a younger horse, but a really even, calm temperament. He's a little green, but catches on fast. And he does listen! I cue him with half-halts, but I also talk to him about what we're going to do next. "Let's trot now." "Do you want to canter?" "Easyyyyy." When we canter, he's extremely willing (he loves to work), but can be challenging to keep to a trot afterward. I started telling him "OK, we're just trotting now" and he's much better about getting to a moderate trot.
And I try to communicate with him in his "language" as well. I'll lay my face against his, the way I've seen him do with his pasture buddy. When he scratches his face on a fence after we're through working, I'll start scratching it for him. The other day, we were walking around the freshly snow-covered barn property, and he stopped for a moment, looking around. So we just stood quietly for a minute, while he took in the different scenery and all the new, fresh scents in the air.
But the real proof that we communicate and understand each other came one lovely spring day when we were done with our lesson and I was leading him back to the barn to untack. We always hand-graze afterward, so I was surprised when he didn't want to go back in the barn. Just planted those feet and wouldn't budge! I waited him out for a minute or two, and then finally said, "Well, we can stay here as long as you want, but it'll be just that much longer before we can go back out and graze." After which, he instantly walked very nicely into the barn! (And of course, we finished up the day with a nice grazing session!)
Gabrielle Bennett, Pennsylvania
Of all the advice I've received over the years, one of the best is to ride with my body. My trainer had me ride without reins, turning circles, over poles, using nothing but my body, my head direction and my legs as needed to help guide my boy, Jack. It was one of the best lessons I've ever had, and although at first it wasn't easy, I now love to do this exercise and it's amazing to see how well grounded and in tune with my horse it makes me ride.
Nicola Meeks, South Dakota
After 63 years of jumping, Pony Club, hunting, years of showing hunters and then nine years eventing, I fell off jumping an oxer. "It wasn't Minty's fault," said Paul, my trainer for 31 years. "You didn't have enough weight in your heels, and Minty cracked his back so well you just pitched right off. And Lizzie," Paul paused, "you're getting on in years and we always agreed I was to tell you when it was time to stop jumping." He paused again. "That time has come. Remember last year how I had you jump a line and immediately stop? Minty was so obedient you continued on over his head." I took his advice, one of the soundest and safest he ever gave me. But it was very hard to swallow!
Liz Benney, Massachusetts
As a fearless 9 year old, getting to ride was everything to me. One week, a homework assignment for our lesson program had one simple question on it: What were your best and worst experiences this week?" I answered, "Being able to post without pulling on the reins (the best) and almost falling off (the worst)." When my wonderful instructor returned that page to me, it had a big smiley face drawn on the top corner and a short note that said, "You will fall off; everybody does. But I know you're a gifted enough rider to get back on and stick with it."
That simple note is the one thing that reminds me that I love riding horses. Through more than six years of endless depression, frustration and paralyzing fear resulting from a scary fall, I nearly gave up riding. Not being able to jump my trusty Paint over a 2-foot-6 oxer at a local show was the last straw. Wearing a tear-stained show shirt, my head down, knowing that I'd failed my horse, trainers and myself, the only thing that kept me from giving up on all the effort, blood, sweat and tears I'd put into this sport was remembering that simple note and the unwritten meaning: "Don't quit yourself. I believe in YOU."
Victoria Blair, Indiana
My 9-year-old Thoroughbred lives outside year round and we don't have an indoor so he gets the winters pretty much completely off. When spring comes he takes a couple weeks of "retraining" to bring him up to speed again, and my trainer is so very understanding of our situation that when my horse gets fresh and bucks after a jump or crow hops through a lead change she just tells me that its O.K., not to panic and just stay with him. He loves his job and gets over excited when getting back in the ring.
Kris Albert, Illinois
The best advice I have ever gotten from a trainer is to just slow down, be calm and just ride. I have used this advice every time I ride. I just slow down, take a deep breath, get calm, and enjoy the moment.
Logan Mumford, Virginia
Gillian Bath of Old Stone Riding Center gave me the best advice I've ever heard. She told me that as long as I ride and work with horses, many people will offer their training views, but it is up to me to create my own bible—my own equine manual.
Lisa Powell, Ohio
In the last seconds before entering the arena, my trainer's words "good luck, have fun" not only gives me a final boost of confidence but reminds me of something more important than winning: the joy I feel whenever I'm around my horse. I make sure everyone I help send into the show ring hears these words, too.
Kimberlee O'Cain, Arizona
"It's a matter of priorities." When my trainer, Carol Ogden said that to me three or four years ago she wasn't my trainer, nor was she judging me for having the wrong priorities. This was simply a statement she made when I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn't doing more eventing and wasn't more successful when I did.
I have many interests and hobbies, but horses have always been my obsession. I love competing and doing well. I simply didn't realize that I wasn't focusing enough on riding and, specifically, competing if I wanted to do well. When that light bulb went on and I simply focused on one thing—eventing—it made a huge difference in my success.
I was very happy to move my other hobbies into the background and save money for shows, lessons, equipment, gas, etc. Should I lose interest in competing (which I doubt), I know my other hobbies are waiting for me. But, for now, I know my top priority is doing well at eventing.
Barbara J. Beckford, Florida